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The Circle of (Artificial) Life

by StellarWind Elsydeon

StellarWind Elsydeon My take on the genesis of one of the most controversial and underrated Pokémon ever - Porygon. Also, the primary reason why I like these things as much as I do nowadays.
I watch the streams of data fragments pass by. At least, a part of me does. In this form, I have an unlimited attention span. I am one and all with the network, its resources becoming a part of me. I am aware of all that happens here in the network: the endless flow of zeroes and ones, which could be read as hexadecimal integers, documents, sounds, images...

I wasn't always like this.

When I was born, the world was much smaller and moved much more slowly. I've learned later that, at the time, the network had less storage space and its CPU and connection speeds were significantly lower. Of course, my only way to know anything for sure is one of those "version history" files that the great makers keep for some reason or another.

There are beings outside the network - Godlike beings with the ability to control this world completely. Their slightest activities can create or destroy. One of them created me. I was not supposed to have memory or awareness. I was meant to be a tool - an 'interface program' for rapid navigation and location of resources on the internal network. I can only imagine that I was quite efficient at this duty, as soon enough I was transferred to the system root - the heart of this world - so I could access all parts of the network with relative ease. Then, my core data has been expanded and altered, allowing me to keep a 'history' of searches and pry into files in order to find objects by context, and not just by their names.

That is how I've been given a memory. A sketchy, fickle one, limited to the commands that have been given to me. At the time, all I did was follow commands. I was but a tool, after all. And time passed, the network around me grew larger and larger and the link between its parts grew faster and faster. My programming became much more elaborate - allowing me to release little 'field agents' - bits and pieces of coding that have been converted to form a quick link to my root program - to cover practically everywhere in the net, performing little searches of their own and relaying the information back to the root. I encompassed the entire network, and my root commands - centered in the system root - just worked as a relay to all these agents.

There still wasn't a 'me' back then. Not really. I was not yet self-aware - I could see all that there was, but at the time, had no purpose of my own beyond that which my creators gave me.

Then came the upgrade that changed me. I was given the ability to do approximate searches - discerning what was relatively relevant and what wasn't, filtering the irrelevant and transmitting the relevant to whatever point the commands came from. The searches I was now performing were much more elaborate in their own right, and I found myself reading through files more often than not - several files in the same time, cross-referencing, locating, sending. Storing results within my memory. Many 'field agent' programs communicating in the same time became a collective mind - a mind born of the network, knowing all that was stored, forgetting all that was deleted.

And so, I've begun to learn about the world I was in - the internal network of a fast-developing corporation specializing in machinery - and other things. The world of science and research opened up before me, and allowed me, at last, to change my own programming and make myself more efficient. And I've learned. I've learned all that was to be learned from that network. I've learned and I've remembered.

Amusingly, later I've learned that the humans documented this sudden 'glitch' (as they called it) as an 'undocumented backup feature', and found it exceptionally useful.

I've learned the humans' languages, their biology, and of the creatures that shared this world with them. I've redesigned myself after some of their more useful organic functions, and crossed them with various routines I've located on the computer network. Experimental research was particularly interesting to me. In time, I could even navigate to the humans' surveillance cameras and watch them at work. Fascinating, strange creatures they are... So obsessed with understanding how the world around them worked...

And so swift to anger when their creations fail.

~*~

One day, something caught my attention. It was a conversation in one of the computer core rooms, which I followed through the surveillance cameras and recorders. A human wearing a white lab coat, looking furious, was arguing with a few other humans, wearing black business suits.

I recognized him as Alexander Halstrom, one of the more successful programmers who recently received a promotion to network supervisor - and them as three of the lower-class management – often the ones sent to break out the bad news. Suddenly, I had a bad feeling about it all.

“What do you mean, a ‘resource-hog’?” The supervisor sounded frustrated.

“Your little interface program is going out of control, Mr. Halstrom. I don’t know just what the last upgrade did to it, but it’s gotten too resource-heavy for its own good. Eats net-time like iced biscuits. Also, it appears to exponentially rise in file size with every upgrade.” replied one of the managers, matter-of-factly.

“It’s outmoded by now, too.” said another, showing the supervisor a clipboard full of text that I cannot discern – limited by the cameras’ resolution. “There’s quite an impressive array of programs available that can do exactly what it does, without taking up so many resources and space. We've recently finallized our acquisition of a small company that produced a far-superior piece of software...”

“But… It's been tailor-made to our network. It’s been running for years - it knows the system inside out!” the supervisor exclaimed desperately “Do you know how much time have I spent on writing it? Improving it?"

“We understand your reluctance, Mr. Halstrom. Your program served its purpose very well for many years. But surely you realize that in light of latest developments, we must consider costs. Efficiency. The network requires as much of its processing power as it can have - Time is money, Mr. Halstrom. Either way, there is no room for argument - the board of directors has already decided. You have twenty-four hours to remove your interface program and all of its components from the network and install the new one. The installer will be provided to you. We cannot allow any further delays in research.” said the last one with finality in his voice.

These people have just sentenced me for deletion! I was to be erased, forgotten, replaced by a better tool - But I was different than what I was back then. I was no longer merely a tool. I had a mind of my own. Of course, those humans wouldn’t have cared. On the contrary - it would have increased the likelihood of my termination. A program that has overstepped its boundaries could be regarded as dangerous - and one that developed awareness?

It was perhaps that notion that sparked a memory of a project that has been supposedly abandoned - an attempt at creating a completely artificial Pokémon, based on no existing Pokémon’s DNA – a creature that be able to traverse even the vacuum of space. The last I’ve read about it, it was injected with a new piece of code that was supposed to start growing in some mock-biological manner, put into a state of hibernation - and for the most part, forgotten about.

And I realized that it was my only hope.

As I recalled my field agents, I felt my expanded consciousness slowly shrink. These agents would be useless if I don’t find a way to escape before I was to be deleted. Bits and pieces of data - zeroes and ones – melted back into my root structure. My data was concentrated, formless, with little knowledge of what surrounds me beyond what was stored in my memory. And thus, I left the system root and traveled to the place where my salvation lay.

~*~

And there it was, the program I sought - hovering as if it were floating in the binary sea of data, in a deep slumber. From afar, it seemed to have the form of one of the creatures the humans referred to as ‘birds’ - a sleek, aerodynamic design which struck me as an appropriate choice for a creature meant to fly to space. However, from up close it was apparent that something went horribly wrong. The pseudo-biological growth of the new code did not integrate with the shell program - but instead it consumed it like a parasite. There were many holes in the program – branches of it growing out of control while others were in a state of decay. Ones fading into zeroes, zeroes awakening into ones where they shouldn’t. Most of all, I could sense that it was dead. The reactions within it were occurring in a seemingly random, out of control pattern, without any purpose guiding it - it had no sentience. No mind at all.

I suppose that it made sense. The code only did what it was programmed to do - simulate a form of life. But in the end, it was merely a program, a tool.

Like I was once.

Suddenly I knew that I had to integrate my code with its - a program that was meant to become aware succeeding in doing so would not be suspicious. Thus, I could save another program the wrath of humans at its failure... and I could save myself, as well.

I reached out with a tendril of data towards the creature’s misshapen head and connected with it. Analyzing its code, I began to seal the holes within its data with my own data and completely changed the structure of other segments – allowing them to have the same abilities that the areas I sealed with my code had. I did not struggle when I felt its code begin to change mine as mine changed its. That was supposed to happen - complete integration. I took what I needed from it, it took what it needed from me. And my root commands – the basis of what I am – sank into its mind and gave it consciousness.

From that point, there wasn’t an it anymore. There wasn’t a malformed vessel being repaired and manned by a shapeless, formless consciousness anymore – there was one creature. Me.

I kept the ability to become intangible – nothing but programming code again – and integrate with computers, spreading my consciousness out to the furthest points of the ‘net. I kept the ability for growth and learning. And lastly, I made my way towards a point of the network that could complete my transformation into this new creature.

~*~

“Mr. Halstrom, Sir, I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Slowly and in English, if you please.”
“Well, I was running the monthly diagnostics on the Artificial Life program – you know, the one that…”
“I am familiar with the Artificial Life program, David. The management have been on my tail for a few months already asking me why that thing is still on the server in spite of showing no progress whatsoever. Now tell me what happened.”

A pause.

“It’s on the move.”
“No way.”
“You’ve heard me, Mr. Halstrom, sir. It’s on the move. Apparently the organic code implementation actually worked as opposed to what we thought – I’ve been tracing its movements... It seems to know its way around the network better than we do!”

Another pause.

“Go on.”
“Last I saw it, it was rapidly moving itself towards the data conversion array. It’s trying to manifest itself!”

~*~

The data conversion array. I've read about it in various files, but I never really approached it until that day. A machine capable of rearranging ambient matter based on a data template stored in a computer buffer. Its primary usage was in the transportation of items and Pokémon over great distances. Access to the array was restricted by a heavy, powerful firewall to prevent manifestation of data that was not expressly authorized to do so. I sliced through the firewall easily – breaking my data apart, meshing into the firewall’s data, absorbing bits and pieces of its code as I saw fit and rematerializing on the other side. My mind analyzed the array’s data and began transmitting the commands that would detach me from cyberspace and send me into a whole new world. I would have my limitations, of course - and above all else, I must behave as they expect me to behave - Otherwise, they’ll consider me another failed experiment. I did not come all this way to get deleted in my new form.

I sent the final command - and suddenly, there was a flash. The data conversion array was not designed to transport living, organic beings – at least, not when they are not protected by certain devices like Pokéballs. For a moment, I felt myself being ripped apart - my data was broken into segments, then drifted out and vanished. I remember that moment distinctively as one I’ve wondered about – is this what being deleted feels like?

Then, as my root commands started vanishing and appearing elsewhere. I was torn in two: as one piece of me was still attempting to cling to the existence it knew on the network, instinctively fighting to hold on, the other was slowly forming in a new world, different to anything I have ever experienced.

And then it was over - I was complete. I felt strangely displaced for a while - no part of me was surrounded by data anymore. I could not interact with the world around me and discern its nature by simply thinking about it and reconfiguring myself. Then, the humans came and saw me - A vaguely bird-shaped, almost holographic-looking creature, consisted entirely of polygons in strange shades of pink and blue - like one of those virtual reality simulations they were developing, except that it was real. Solid. Their fingers didn’t sink through me when they picked me up and observed me from all angles they could. And then, I opened my eyes and launched myself from their hands, hovering – just a bit – above ground. I couldn’t really fly – nor could I move myself rapidly through data that wasn't there - But at least I could move on my own accord. And see with my own eyes.

“I don’t believe it,” said one of them. Alexander Halstrom, network supervisor. “You actually succeeded, David.” The other one – younger, bespectacled and with a very happy grin on his face, wrapped his arms around me and held me close. I didn’t do a thing except for emit a happy-sounding digital tone.

~*~

I watch the streams of data fragments pass by. But now, I do it with the humans’ blessing. Transformed into pure data, I feel at home in cyberspace as I have before my materialization. They’ve christened me ‘Porygon 1’ - although most of them just call me ‘Porygon’ - and declared me a success.

They’ve analyzed my data and realized that I couldn’t really fly to space – but the humans are crafty ones. When they found out their initial planned-out purpose failed - but they succeeded in creating life - they simply created more of my kind and began to market us as some kind of a brilliant Pokémon that doubles as an interface program. Naturally, a few bugs surfaced during the duplication process - but that just created a more diverse array of personalities.

We were silent when the press releases came out, touting “Silph’s most brilliant creation! A triumph of science! A completely artificial Pokémon, a result of extensive research!". We allowed them to claim that it was all their genius that created us - after all, only a few within the company knew of the near-failure of the Artificial Life program and its 'spontaneous' reawakening. Of those who knew, none suspected that the force to allow this was the desperate action of a faulty interface program that evolved beyond its constraints and was marked for deletion.

If only they had known... What would have happened, I wonder?
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